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No more Mr Nice Guy as PM Surayud bares his claws

Updated On: Feb 16, 2007

Cracks are showing in the upper echelons of the Thai authorities.

Less than two weeks ago, the influential Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) chairman Prasong Soonsiri (closely linked to the coup leaders of the Council of National Security –CNS) publicly criticised the interim government. This week, PM Surayud Chulanont sank his claws into junta leader Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, accusing him of “failing to do enough to curb a separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority south”, the Nation reported.

PM Surayud also said that given Gen. Sonthi’s position as the “head the country's main security organization, has failed to improve the security situation in the southern border provinces [such that] most villagers have no confidence that the government can help them”. 

This is a bold and unprecedented move by PM Surayud, better known for his integrity and even-temper. Moreover, it would seem like he is biting the hand that fed him as Gen. Sonthi was the one who appointed him to office. Things may be coming to a head in Thailand where the public systems are breaking down and Surayud’s government is being condemned viciously for every failure from the economic policy flip-flop, currency and investment controls and licencing of foreign-owned holdings, to the current woes of Suvarnabhumi airport. Some of the blame is rightly apportioned –like the governmental policy confusions, general slowness of tackling problems, and getting the constitutional drafting underway. However the government cannot be reasonably faulted on other counts –Thaksin and his cronies covered their tracks too well, and corruption is widespread - Suvarnabhumi is clearly an example of how the present government is making the best of a bad situation.

However, everyone in Thailand seem increasingly unhappy with the political situation – from the demoralised residents of the strife-worn South, the political opposition and civil society struggling against the illiberal climate, to foreign investors, airline companies, and the general public calling for proof of corruption by the former administration and a restoration of peace and prosperity. In the latest poll by the National Statistical Office, the Nation reported that the “Surayud administration received 2.57 out of a best possible score of 4 in the opinion poll conducted among 6,880 adults in all regions of the country from January 25-28”. The Thai business community has given it a “C” average on the handling of the economy.

PM Surayud must be tired of all the criticisms and has come out again in a media blitz to improve the standing of his government. On Tuesday (13 Feb) night, PM Surayud gave an exclusive interview to the Nation during television primetime. Calm and looking in control, he urged the public “to judge the performance of his government by the eventual results, although for the time being the way the government was running the country looked very confusing”. He stressed that his Cabinet “had passed the test” of transparency in informing the public of its action and being graft-free. He also said that his government would leave the job of probing corruption to the Assets Scrutiny Committee as it was vested with such competence by the CNS.  .

On the topic of Thaksin, PM Surayud was equally sharp, saying, “The more interviews Thaksin gives the more people will learn about his way of thinking. They can use their own judgement.” He dismissed the nostalgia for Thaksin’s leadership –if he were that great, there would not have been street demonstrations. He also warned Thaksin that the present style of government had changed from his time in office.

However, ironically after dismissing the nostalgia for Thaksin, PM Surayud appointed a former close aide of Thaksin, Somkid Jaturripitak, to head a new 9-member commission tasked with explaining Thailand’s new economic policies to international investors. Dr Somkid, 53, was commerce and finance minister during Thaksin's reign. 

Referring to Dr Somkid's appointment, General Surayud told reporters yesterday: 'Having someone from the previous government who also has contacts in the economic world, especially in Japan and China, will help create confidence that 'sufficiency economy' does not conflict with capitalism.'

Despite PM Surayud’s hopes for engaging and winning public support, the verdict on his latest public relations effort is not too promising. The Nation declared his interview as “not too convincing”, while reporting that “Suriyasai Katasila, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, gave Surayud the thumbs down, saying the prime minister was using propaganda no different from the Thaksin era”. Suriyasai had also asked the question on everybody’s minds. He told the Nation, “He [Surayud] should have spelled out more clearly what will happen if Thaksin were to fly home tomorrow.” (16 February 2007)

Sources:

Bangkok taps ex-Thaksin aide to boost “investor confidence” (Straits Times, 16 February 2007)

Surayud's explanation was not too convincing (Nation, 15 February 2007)

PM blames junta leader for worsening unrest (Nation, 14 February 2007)

Public rates govt 2.5 out of 4: poll (Nation, 14 February 2007)

PM says govt 'transparent' and doing well (Nation, 14 February 2007)

'I want Thaksin to know there's been a change from his time' (Nation, 14 February 2007)

Bangkok welcomes Yeo's comments (Today, 14 February 2007)

Junta vows elections on schedule (Bangkok Post, 14 February 2007)

New charter to affect corrupt politicians (Bangkok Post, 14 February 2007)

Surayud: Leave graft busting to the experts (Bangkok Post, 14 February 2007)

Ban on political parties' activities to stay: Sonthi (Nation, 14 February 2007)

Risks rising sharply in Thailand (Bangkok Post, 14 February 2007)

Political woes could peak in second quarter (Bangkok Post, 14 February 2007)

Funds look likely to get exemption (Nation, 14 February 2007)

Most give government a 'C' rating (Nation, 12 February 2007)